The Living World by Carl Maddox (E. C. Tubb)

The Living World was written by E. C. Tubb under his alias Carl Maddox and published by C. Arthur Pearson (1954) via the Tit-Bits Science Fiction Library series. The cover illustration by Ron Turner features a space-suited man, firing a beam into the planet’s surface while gaping in fright as the very surface expands outward and seems to be reaching up and toward him in a menacing manner. It’s a gorgeous work of art and one I imagine readily gripped potential reader’s with awe.

The tale opens with ship captain Rex Tendris arriving at the planet Deneb IV to attend the Auctions, a flesh-for-sale event. He is disgusted by this but is searching for an old friend, Carl Stanert (a spaceship engineer skilled in the tending of Hyper-Drive engines) whom he knows has been captured and is to be offered for sale at the auction. While on the planet, Rex befriends a young officer (Stef Carson); he invites Rex to share his accommodation.

Attending the Auctions, the engineer he seeks comes up on the auction-block and Rex Tendris gets into a minor bidding war and wins Carl Stanert. He in turn asks Rex if he has any additional funds, to which Rex acknowledges he does. Carl asks Rex access to those funds to purchase a decrepit old wizened man.

Getting into a heated auction with Bronson, an evil space man possessing immense wealth, Bronson relents and permits the pair to win the professor. Rex’s funds are now wholly spent.

Rex Tendris, Carl Stanert, Stef Carson, and Professor Whitney depart the Auctions and Carl explains that the professor has discovered the whereabouts of the Cradle. The Cradle refers to an ancient alien civilization that once colonized the galaxies. The remains of their long-since abandoned worlds have been discovered and explored by humanity. Humans desire to locate the home world of this lost race, along with the preciously rare metal urillium used on those worlds.

Rex is in disbelief, but after they attempt to coax the coordinates from the professor, someone outside the room fires a deadly shot. That shot was meant for Rex, but the professor catches the murderous shot himself. With his last dying breath, the professor writes the coordinates on the ground with his blood.

The information is valuable but useless to Rex Tendris. He hasn’t funds to refuel or rebuild his broken vessel of a ship, but Stef volunteers his own saved funds. He has dreamed of the romantic stars and exploring them. Rex attempts to dissuade him, that the world afar is not just glamor and riches. Stef is undeterred, so Rex accepts and Stef becomes a ready member of the venture, to split the proceeds equally among themselves. Assuming they survive.

Rapidly departing the planet, Rex orders Carl to get the hyper-drive functional. He is certain Bronson will stop at nothing to get the coordinates or blast them out of space; Bronson may well not require the coordinates from them, if he was able to decipher the bloody marks left by the professor on the ground.

Bronson’s ship approaches and opens fire. Rex’s ship only has one turret against Bronson’s trio, and Rex’s turret is inaccurate. Carl manages to get the hyper-drive engines functional and they vanish, leaving behind a very angry Bronson. While he might have professor’s coordinates, that does not mean he knows where Rex will come out. The race is on!

Unfortunately, Rex’s ship was battered by the assault and the engine-room is in ruin. The hyper-drive is vibrating and Carl is certain that the vibrations will worsen to the point of turning them into jelly. Carl with the assistance of young Stef manage to mend the engine-room and make it functional. Setting the coordinates for the approximate location of the Cradle, Rex exits hyper-drive just outside the Coalsack. With the aid of hyper-drive, one may pass through the Coalsack with ease; the real danger occurs once more when they exit. There could be all manner of debris where they return to normal time and space. Plus, the hyper-drive is not functioning properly.

Tense minutes pass when the ship was set to abandon hyper-drive, but Rex personally attends to this and he gazes upon a sinister-looking planet. Better than this is the fact that he discovers a sleek vessel in orbit circling the alien planet! Seemingly abandoned, the trio take it for their own according to space laws. No living bodies are found inside, yet the ship is fully functional. How long has it been there? What of the crew? Are they on the planet? Dead or alive?

Removing the ship from orbit, they fly over the planet and eventually a smaller vessel is spotted on the surface. Realizing it was the landing ship, Rex lands and with Carl, they investigate. Looking inside the ship’s screen Rex sees a wreck of a human in tattered clothes and unkempt hair, gibbering insanely.

Rescuing the figure and returning to the newly acquired ship, Rex coaxes out of the maniac that he was the captain of the doomed venture. He remained within the landing vessel while four others explored the planet. Utilizing a drill, they attempted to mine the surface…then the planet assaulted them. The captain in a fit of fear then dies while reliving the memory.

Instructing Carl and Stef to man the ship’s turrets, Rex repeats the earlier explorer’s mission and with a drill, attacks the planet’s surface. His mind is battered by a painful shriek that assaults him. Carl and Stef fire at the planet’s surface surrounding Rex and he is safely brought back aboard the ship to explain what happened.

The surface is made of liquefied urillium metal, but it is alive, sentient. How is this possible? Rex surmises that they arrived where the Cradle had once been located, but they are five million years too late. The Cradle is no longer there, in space. With proper mathematical computations, they may be able to compute where the Cradle has shifted in space.

So, if this is not the Cradle, what is this planet of living metal?

Rex believes at one time the planet was constructed by the ancient beings using the urillium, perhaps as a self-repairing robot, and then abandoned. The area is highly radioactive and over the millions of years the urillium developed a life of its own.

Donning his space suit once more, Rex exits the ship and lasers off small chunks of urillium waste from the planet. Being a sentient planet, Rex had a mental conversation with it, a bargain that essentially states he departs with some of the rare metal and never returns, nor divulges the location of the planet, otherwise more greedy adventurers will return and murder the living planet for its wealth.

The urillium planet agrees to the terms and Rex and his two companions vacate the living world quite rich, to have more future adventures…

The Living World by Carl Maddox (E. C. Tubb)

Dimension of Horror by Sydney J. Bounds

HAMILTON Dimension Of Horror

Dimension of Horror was published in 1953 by Hamilton & Co., being No. 70 in the Panther Books series. The story begins on Page 5 and ends on Page 160. The cover sports an enticing illustration by Richards, featuring a female with green hair. The blurb atop the cover reads:

“ALIEN thought-waves strike FEAR into the heart of Man”

Perhaps so, but Bounds adroitly dodges that assertion by gifting readers initially with what feels like a casual space-adventure novel. Novelist Alexander Black is an undercover secret agent sent from Earth to investigate tensions on Venus. At all costs, war is wished to be avoided. Venus in the end would lose, as the colonists all live under a dome, but for some bizarre reason, Venusians bear evidence of hatred towards the people of Earth.

The story opens with Black in a Venus bar watching a woman with bright green hair. Soon they get to talking together over a drink and he discerns that Sadie Lubinski is a Venus secret agent. She knows too much about who he is…

Worse yet, a brute in the bar is hollering anti-Earth banter and calls Black out in front of the crowd. Black adroitly dodges the confrontation by informing the brute that everything he has said about Earth is 100% accurate. This befuddles the brute. But enough on that…Sadie and Black depart and board a Venus taxi.

Black sees a strange grey-suited pale-featured person watching them from another vehicle. Having the girl wait, he circles the vicinity, to confront the individual, and…discovers the vehicle empty! Where did he go? He couldn’t possibly have disappeared into thin air. Could he?

Black returns to Sadie’s taxi, disturbed, and while riding, they banter; eventually she is deposited at her abode, and she requests he call on her tomorrow. Leaving her, he departs and the Venus driver drops him off in an unsavory part of town, refusing to drive any further for fear of being injured by a growing mob surrounding the vehicle.

Black exits but soon finds himself the deadly focus of an insane mob, bent on murdering him. Running for his life, Black outdistances the unruly maniacs and leaping acrobatically up upon a beam, secretes his body into the shadows while the frenzied, bloody-thirsty mob mindlessly hurries by in pursuit of a person that no longer exists before them.

The next day, Black calls on Sadie, but she is not taking calls. Perhaps she is out. Perhaps she set him up to die and thinks “mission accomplished.” Black is irked by the self-admission that he is very much interested in Sadie, on a romantic level.

Either way, Black isn’t waiting. He decides to explore further afield. Outside the domed zone, he discovers that Venus has prehistoric creatures that are very much alive. Some attack his transport, but his driver has access to powerful weapons that slay every creature… Arriving at a mining facility, he is blocked from accessing the grounds, despite possessing the equivalent of a press pass granting him full access.

Returning to the city, he is brought before a Venusian official and informed that for his own safety he needs to return to Earth. Certainly he can’t accept the forced offer, and declines, taking his own chances. It’s not long after that he is picked up and meets with a Venus agent named Lingstrom who is not what he seems. Black finds the man to be some form of telepath. Lingstrom invades his mind, bent to obtaining Black’s mission, etc. Black attempts to steer his thoughts in other directions. All attempts fail…until Black focuses his attention on the sexy Sadie Lubinski and the love he feels for her. Lingstrom is immediately repulsed by what he sees.

But his mental accomplishment is short-lived as Lingstrom beats him down. Realizing he is mentally doomed, Black removes a secreted special pill from the hollow of one of his teeth. It enables enhanced strength and abilities…for a very short while. Agent Black snaps the cords binding him, punches one captor, takes out another and leaps out a window. The stimulant wears off and…Black takes off, running as quickly as possible. The hunt is on, and the villains are in hot pursuit, when inexplicably, the little grey-suited man pulls alongside and offers Black a lift!

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Black accepts the ride and the pair speed away, escaping pursuit, enter a hideaway, and descend underground. Herewith we are introduced to Yzz-Five, who turns out to be an alien from another dimension, assuming a nondescript humanoid form. Truth being, his form is so hideous that for humanity to actually see him in his true form would cause instantaneous insanity! Yzz-Five possesses the power of telepathy and the body Black sees is actually fictionally impressed upon his senses, as with anyone else that sees him.

The alien telepathically teleports Sadie to the hideout, and Yzz-Five explains that he (or ‘it’ since it does not represent either ‘sex’) has watched Agent Black and Sadie Lubinski closely. Because of their affinity for each other, and, being from soon-to-be-warring planets, he has chosen them to enlist against the true war: the invasion of their worlds by his Emperor. In his dimension, the Emperor creates chaos on other worlds and dimensions, conquering and bending their will to his. The war between Venus and Earth is actually a mentally-impressed action by the Emperor’s underlings, other beings from Yzz-Five’s world.

Not quite convinced, Black and Lubinski are jointly sent hurling through the dimensional realm to land on Yzz-Five’s world, to be enlightened by other rebels. Unfortunately, the Emperor captures and rapes their minds; thankfully, the rebels rescue the pair and because of their mental exposure to the Emperor, their really isn’t much convincing required. Enlightened of the situation, they are sent back to Yzz-Five to plan a rebellion on Venus against the Emperor’s forces.

All plans go sideways when the Emperor preemptively instructs his forces to release an atomic bomb at the ore mining facility. The destruction is massive, the dome is cracked in places, life is in mass peril. Using their telepathic abilities, they take to the air and inform the Venusians that Earth has launched an assault on Venus and that Earthman Alexander Black, a secret agent under the guise of an author, and Venusian Sadie Lubinski, a traitor, are to be caught and killed.

The finale comes with the realization that the only way to stop the insanity is to fight insanity with more insanity. Yzz-Five and his few local fellow telepaths mentally assault a false general and bombard him until his false image fails. The Venusian’s, unable to comprehend or take in what they are seeing, rip and rend the exposed alien to pieces. The war on Venus is ended before it could begin, but Earth must be stopped from dropping their bombs!

Black is transferred to the radio station and he contacts the Earth fleet, aborts the attack, and the fleet lands to assist the colonists, what small percentage that remains alive and sane.

The villainous aliens remove themselves back to the home planet, now that they have been exposed, and the Emperor’s plot is foiled. Yzz-Five informs Black that he must leave, for the rebels will continue their fight for other worlds in other dimensions.

Black and Lubinski marry on Mercury, but she can’t remain away from her fellow people. Informing Black of this, he realizes he can’t stop her, so the pair jointly return to Venus, to assist and rebuild…

An unusually fun science fiction romp. Personally, I’m not an avid science fiction reader, and have never been properly exposed to one of Bounds longer works. I strongly recommend fans of vintage science fiction to seek out and read Dimension of Horror

I suspected that such a book might have been reprinted, so I checked with Bounds’ agent, Phil Harbottle. He told me:

Dimension of Horror was first reprinted as a Wildside POD paperback some 20 years ago. The text was a facsimile of the Panther edition, but they used a new cover (awful minimalist design) and stupidly misspelt the author’s name as ‘Sidney J. Bounds’. Its licence expired after seven years and it was withdrawn and went out of print (leaving me stuck with a pile of copies I’d bought and had signed by the author). It has been reprinted twice since, retitled and revised by me as The Vanishing Man. First as a Linford Mystery Large Print paperback (2010) and by Endeavour (now Lume Books) in their Venture Science Fiction series (2017) in both paperback and eBook.

 

“It is important to note that as an agent I faced a difficult challenge in selling all my clients’ (Bounds, Fearn, Glasby, Tubb and others) 1950s SF novels to Linford’s editors as MYSTERIES, where they had to be adjudged acceptable to MODERN READERS who would have no experience in reading SF at all. The novels HAD to be tweaked to remove ANYTHING that was flatly impossible or plain wrong, in the light of modern-day knowledge. They had to be set either clearly in the future, or taking place today or in the NEAR future.  There could be no alien flora or fauna existing in the solar system. No Martians or Venusians, no breathable air on Mars or Venus, and so on.

“By hard work and careful editing, I managed to sell SCORES of 1950s SF books to Linford as mysteries.  Some, because of the authors’ skill and foresight, were virtually unchanged; others varied from very little (e.g. Tubb’s The Stellar Legion) to extensive (Fearn’s Man of Two Worlds) rewrites. I used a range of devices, such as alien protagonists coming from another solar system, or from another dimension.  To sell The Vanishing Man, I moved the action from Venus to Mars, where the events takes place under a pressurised dome, and the Martians are colonists descended from Earth. The alien menace from another dimension was able to remain unchanged.  I contrived to keep nearly all of  Bounds’ wording and actions: Black still left the city is his transporter, but instead of being attacked by dinosaurs in a jungle he was attacked in a desert by a Martian DUST STORM. The action narrative flow and events were unchanged.

Endeavour’s attractive POD paperback edition is still in print, and an absolute bargain at just £4.99. The earlier Thorpe edition used to be even cheaper when Amazon were offering ex-library copies from a pound or so, plus £2.50 postage, but be warned! These cheapo Thorpe editions (contractually out of print and withdrawn from sale after five years) are rapidly disappearing and being replaced by prices of £20 and up, or simply vanishing altogether. I haven’t checked the status on The Vanishing Man or other books for some time. Your blog readers may need to check Abe and eBay as well as Amazon to find these editions. And with the Linford Mystery series closing down after April this year, the few non-library copies are set to become high-priced collectors’ items—especially the many posthumous titles that are actually world first editions, such as Tubb’s To Dream Again (2011).”

For those interested in acquiring the first revised edition of The Vanishing Man, copies of the Thorpe edition can be found on eBay accompanied by the following blurb:

Popular novelist and secret agent Alec Black is on an undercover mission on Mars.
The Martian colonists are preparing for a major offensive against earth and someone is stirring up war-fever. Black must try to prevent it, or the whole system will be engulfed in atomic war. When Black finds himself shadowed by a man who, when confronted, vanishes into thin air, his investigation turns into his strangest case and very soon he’s plunged into a dimension of horror…

Prefer an original, vintage copy from 1953? Two copies currently are available on ABEbooks.com but…the cheaper of the pair is an exlibris hardcover (US $15) and the more expensive copy is the paperback edition (US $30). Both are Good condition and both are likewise only available in Australia! Otherwise, no other editions are currently available for sale online.

Dimension of Horror by Sydney J. Bounds